King of the Oilers: The Story of the USS Chiwawa AO-68
With entry into World War II, the United States of America faced a daunting task of delivering men and material on two distant fronts on opposite ends of the world. Due to this, a logistical system was developed like never seen before. This book tells the story of the fleet oiler, USS Chiwawa AO-68. How both men and machine, not primarily designed for war, were called from civilian life to defend their country and become part of the backbone of the navy helping to tip the balance in the Allies favor. Loaded with cargo consisting of kerosene, gasoline, diesel oil, Navy Special Fuel Oil, top side cargo, and passengers, the Chiwawa participated in nine trans-Atlantic convoys, delivering the goods to the European theater. Facing bad weather and the imminent threat of U-boats, the Chiwawa performed the delicate job of refueling the escort ships protecting the convoy while underway. When the war in Europe was won, the Chiwawa was transferred to the Pacific theater to confront ever present mines and two typhoons. This often overlooked aspect of World War II is examined using U.S. Navy records, crew interviews, diaries, and letters written during the war, telling the Chiwawa's story through first-hand accounts of life at sea and land while visiting ports throughout Europe, Mediterranean, Caribbean and Pacific. This story is unique because the Chiwawa avoided scrapping after the war to return to civilian use, and serves to the present day on the Great Lakes as the ore carrier M/V Lee A. Tregurtha.
Much has been written about battleships, destroyers, cruisers, submarines, and carriers. Little has been written based on volume, of the story of the ships behind them. Oilers and supply ships are the grease that keeps a fleet moving, without them the story of their successes would be totally different.
Strupp has focused on one fleet oiler the Chiwawa which served in both the Atlantic and the Pacific the ship his father served on during the war. Support ships served multiple roles, escorts, refueling and re-supply and convoy protection.
The USS Chiwawa lived on after the war undergoing various ownership and names and still serves today though not in a military capacity. Launched in June of 1942 under a Maritime Commission as the SS Samoset she was acquired by the US Navy in December of 1942 and named Chiwawa AO-68. After the war she became the SS Walter A. Sterling, then SS William Clay Ford ll, in 1989 her name was changed to SS Lee A. Tregurtha, the name under which she still serves today in a civilian capacity. As Chiwawa she received two battle stars and several campaign medals.
Close calls on convoy duty and the ever present U-Boats made this job a stressful one. Chiwawa’s most frightening experience came when she collided with another vessel. The damage was severe but not to a point where sinking was a possibility. The inquiry into the why of the collision and its effects on the crew and those most immediately responsible was and to some degree is still intense.
This is the root story of why and how the US Navy achieved so much during the war. Strupp has written history worth reading, I hope those serving on her today are aware of her proud history.
Reviewed by: jim greenwald (September 2011)